And now the Minnesota House, caving to gun rights supporters, joins the U.S. Senate in failing to expand background checks for purchasing guns at gun shows. At least the U.S. Senate voted on a similar measure, which failed by six votes.
But Minnesota House members apparently will not even get a chance to debate and vote on their bill because Speaker Paul Thissen has concluded there aren’t enough votes to pass the background check expansion or other gun safety legislation.
According to the Strib, a coalition of rural DFLers and all House Republicans were prepared to join together to vote against any measure they see as restricting gun rights.
And so despite the shootings at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson and Minneapolis and on the streets of our cities every day, and despite polls showing 80 percent or more support for expanded background checks, our elected officials at both the state and federal levels have failed to act.
How do they face the families of the victims of all these shootings and say, “We didn’t do anything?” How do they call themselves responsible legislators when in the face of all that has happened and overwhelming public support, including from police and prosecutor associations in Minnesota, they fail to act?
I have watched this gun debate since President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. I thought that finally, after all these years and all these mass shootings and all these street corner shootings, and all this public support, something would finally get done.
But the culture of guns in this country is hard to change. I understand how people enjoy hunting and target practice. I understand how some people want to have a weapon in their house for self-defense. I understand how people are ardent in their support of the 2nd amendment.
Expanding background checks to prevent criminals and people with mental health issues from owning guns does nothing to harm the rights of legitimate gun owners. Nothing.
Yet the National Rifle Association and its allies try to sell the false notion that any restriction on rights whatsoever is a slippery slope, somehow leading to government confiscation of weapons. They are well-funded, well-organized and apparently more effective at Congressional and Legislative politics than gun safety advocates. But they are wrong about their central belief that the 2nd Amendment is absolute.
In a democratic society, there is always a balance between personal freedom and public safety. We regulate all kinds of activity from how fast you can drive on the freeway to where you put your garbage.
In a passage that gun rights advocates seem to ignore, conservative Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia said in a 2008 opinion that there can be reasonable regulation of gun ownership:
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on the longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Apparently, a lot of legislators aren’t familiar with that passage by one of the icons of the conservative movement.
The other thing that gun rights advocates argue is that expanded background checks would make no difference so why enact them. Such checks may not prevent all these mass shootings and other violence. But if they stop one potential murderer from getting a gun and shooting a child or a spouse or a teenager, it would be worth it.
At the end of the day, we as a society, and our elected representatives in St. Paul and Washington, owe it to the victims and the families of too many shootings to do something to stop the killing.